Painting Tips from Ed

 Ed Morris says:

I find that I am not painting as much every day as I used to. Even though I go out to my studio every day, some days I can only paint for an hour or so. Hopefully this will improve as things improve. In the meantime, I thought I might post some tips you might be able to use in your studio. I think this will be good therapy for me and some good stuff for you!


A Painting Revisited | Painting Steps | #1 was Design | Painting from a Photo | Tips & Observations | New Directions | What’s on Your Easel? | Painting Set Up | Color Strings | Limited Palette | Seeing Color in shades of Gray | Tips concerning art material containers | Golden Ratio | Brush Cleaning and Care


A Painting Revisited

Day’s Work Done – 12” x 16” oil on stretched canvas

This is from a small pastel painting and I completed many years ago. I thought to myself, if I were to repaint it, what might it look like?

This painting and came down to three things: first, getting the design and eye movement right, second getting the perspective of the bales of hay right especially on the hills, and third, getting the mood right.

As you can see, I practiced drawing the proportions of the bales of hay at varying angles to figure out how I was going to incorporate them into the landscape. I spent several hours just on the design and getting the eye movement down before putting any real color on the canvas.

I typically use a limited pallet on my landscapes when I am painting them in my studio to ensure I have color harmony.
I chose a red dominant color scheme using primaries of alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, and cadmium yellow pale. I mixed piles of color from YO, O, RO, R, RP, P, BP going around the color wheel to yellow orange blue violet. From those colors I mixed all the colors I used in the painting. You can see some of the color strings I started mixing.

I chose an almost dusk setting with a very very tight and nuanced value structure. I took this about as far as my skill set would allow. 



Painting Steps

Sky Top Orchard

preliminary sketch

Thank you all for the kind comments about my sky top orchard painting. I thought you might like to see some of the steps I took in producing this painting.

After some preliminary sketches I decided on a 2 x 3 format and then a quick gouache and watercolor black and white study.
I ultimately decided on a square format and since this was going to be backlit, I went ahead and did a transparent wash to get the flow or the darks working in the painting and to figure out the composition.

transfer wash

You can also see some contour lines with the foreground on the right side leading down to the road. This will help me to visualize how the light is hitting this area.

color gamut

I created a color gamut help me harmonize the colors for the painting. Most of the colors in the color gamut are grayed down versions (closer to the gray center of the color wheel..
I tried to mix my colors so that I stayed within the framework of the gamut that I created.
The next picture is a thin flat block in of the painting in color and value to give me an idea how this was going to work.

black & white to show the values of the block in

This was still pretty rough but I was able to proceed from this point. The last photo is a black-and-white to show the values of the block in.
I painted the rest of the picture without a lot of medium letting the be paint, making sure my values were right and colors prismatically adjusted for depth.  Shapes are refined, details added and lots and lots of corrections one stroke at a time.
I try to work off the end of the brush. Dancing it just above the canvas, zeroing in, taking a breath, exhaling and making a mark. I did the sky to Glenn Miller’s In the Mood and Boogy Woogy Bugle Boy! I would like to think that this infuses the painting with some additional energy besides being fun for me.


#1 was Design

Sunday Drive 7 by 13 inches, oil on canvas panel

Spring Brook 14 x 18 inches, oil on canvas panel

My mom told me things come in three’s.
I was recently watching a video on painting (of course). The artist ranked the most important things an artist must have to create beautiful paintings. Skill was listed as #4. #1 was design. In my recent edition of International Artist Magazine, Harley Brown said the most important thing in a painting is its value structure and design. Notan Structure by Barry John Raybould popped up in my e-mail feed. He says it is the key to a successful painting. Maybe the universe is trying to tell me something. The examples here are very recent paintings in my alla prima style focusing on the design and value structure.


Painting from a Photo

Hickory Nut Falls – Chimney Rock 18×14 inches, oil on linen panel

I painted this from a photo I took a couple of years ago. I used the photo for a jumping off point. The photo is extremely complicated and detailed.

My strategy was to:

  • Develop a value pattern first.

  • All values/colors mixed for the shade stayed in their respective shadow ranges

  • I used color/value strings to make sure I did not drift out of my values. Very tight value structure.

  • Simplified the scene.

  • Used warm and cool colors to differentiate shapes rather than value as a first resort in the shadow areas.

  • When in doubt what to do, simplify rather than add detail.

  • Did I mention simplify rather than add detail?

  • One last thing. How do you lighten already light warm colors without losing saturation when you want saturation. Use transparent colors. At the end of the painting, I used a Michael Harding Indian Yellow Red Shade mixed with some white for the final highlights on the sunlit gold leaves. The photo doesn’t really show the vibrancy of this painting.

  • All my paintings are primarily a red, yellow and blue with a touch of thalo blue for the sky. This gives the painting some color harmony right out the gate.

  • I have a little more work to do on this one. But will wait until I can see it with fresh eyes. For now this painting gets to take a nap.


Tips & Observations
…. that aren’t typically in art books or are intuitive for the artist but not usually talked about.

I had a pretty good idea where I wanted to go with this. So I decided to lay in some transparent washes (no white) to get my patterns of darks established. You can see my little ball in the sky to remind me where the light is coming from. I usually start my Plein air paintings with a little shadow ball some where where I can see it.
I try and connect the darks shapes together physically or optically. Something I picked up from Sandy Moore watching her paint. This is my roadmap for this one.
My old mentor taught to carefully paint the vertical planes in the shade first and the horizontal shadow planes second.

If this one fizzles, I am blaming Sandy! … (no worries Sandy!)

Spring Serenity 20 x 24 inches, oil on canvas panel

Here is my latest alla prima painting using my slow drying oils. I seem to like painting this way…wet in wet instead of indirect painting or painting layers and layers over dried areas.
Several things to think about:
Value structure paramount before any other considerations. This gives the painting unity and depth.
One stroke and move on. Up close the painting looks abstract. Very careful consideration for value and color in each brush stoke. Even though I use pools of color, they are adjusted a bit for each stroke. Adding the variety to the painting. Let the weight of brush do the work holding the brush very lightly and paint from the end of the brush. Step back a lot!
Lots of scraping off of mis-strokes! I tired not to paint over them as that creates way too much blending.
 • Think convex and concave when when creating shapes – having both in the shape of the foliage.
 • Every shape as a lost edge.
 • Paint your vertical darks with up and down strokes. Save your variety of direction for the lights.
 • Lots of grays in the painting giving life to the color.
Since I used a photo, I used my field of vision to keep the painting in focus in the middle of focal area, letting it become more abstract and loose as I moved out of the focal area. Remember, everything in the photo is in focus, so you cant simply copy it.
I need to let this set now. I will keep any corrections to a minimum as I like the freshness of the painting, mistakes and all!



New Directions

A Little Bit of Winter – 18×18” oil on board

A Little Bit of Winter I decided to switch things up in my painting . I normally paint in an indirect style using thin layers of paint and glazes with a lot of fussing. I got some Geneva paints for Christmas which stay wet for five days, so alla prima here I come. I am learning in a painful way about blending on my canvas instead of on my palette. One stroke at a time and leave it alone. I asked for these paints for Christmas in order to make this a habit. My big art goal this year. My first crack at it!


Old Mill Site on Reems Creek – 11×14 inches oil on linen panel

Old Mill Site on Reems Creek For this one, the original of this scene had already gone to a good home. I decided to repaint it using my new slow drying paints for the PAPA show using the photo of the painting and the photos of the day out there. Q Tips and a palette knife for removing paint are my new friends. The strategy is to match the value and color as best I can out of the gate and not go back to correct by painting over what’s already been done. This nuanced approach slowed me way down but resulted in a more efficient way of painting. The result shows a clarity of purpose in laying down the paint. It doesn’t look like much up close but when stepping back it comes together. My wife, my favorite critic who is pretty blunt with me, told me, “I don’t know what you are doing, you need to paint more like this all the time.”



What’s on Your Easel?

Winter for me is working on some still life paintings. I have an adjustable shelf that I attached to the wall and a science project tri-fold foam core board I use as a backdrop in my studio. I got the idea from a how to video on still life painting and saw this in the background of the video a couple of years ago. I have three great ideas in various stages of development.

My son-in-law bought a little bottle of tequila while they were here for Christmas. When I saw it I knew I had to paint it, so I created the set up after they went home. I’m about halfway through this one and will post it when I complete it At this point I am mostly down to quarter inch and smaller in my brushes. At least the brush cleanup is easy.

The Reveal

I am a morning person. I’ve been retired for 11 years and started getting up later and then goofing around the house most of the morning before figuring out the day. I usually painted in the afternoon. I decided on this paining to get up early and have a quick breakfast and get out to the studio. My concentration is better and I think I am more productive and creative. Looking forward to a new routine this year!




Painting Set Up

So excited about my new still life set up area I built in my studio. Notice the artist mahl stick on my easel that slides on a rail for bracing my hand when needed.

Family Affair 15 x 12 inches Oil on Canvas Panel

My Aunt painted flowers on porcelain china. The pieces we have are exquisite pieces of art in their own right. This is one of her pieces, Barbara supplied the flowers and I chipped in a little paint.


Color Strings

Ushering in Summer. 16×24” oil on canvas panel

This is the largest plein air painting and I have attempted to date. Lots of challenges but still having a blast! Needs a little more work and I will finish it up once these layers of paint dry.

I created a lot of color strings in the studio to help me with the color recession of the yellow flowers as they moved back in a painting. The values in this painting are tight and subtle.


Limited Palette

I wanted to show the limited palette I used to repaint my study I mentioned in an earlier post. Limited palette of yellow ocher, burnt sienna, cobalt blue, chromium oxide green, and ivory black. I created a little color map on my palette to give me an idea how these would mix together before I started.


Seeing Color in shades of Gray

In my little flower painting….After my initial block in, I fell into the trap of trying to add more contrast by lightening the reds with white creating some pasty colors. When things go wrong in a painting, it is usually values. The vertical up right values of the flower petals in the light should be a step lighter than a middle value. It is hard to see the values of intense colors such as the reds I was using. So I sometimes resort to photographing the mixtures on my palette and then rendering them black-and-white to get rid of the color to see the actual values.

This is also a common mistake in landscape painting where the warm colors in the foreground are depicted lighter than they actually are.

When mixing your colors, think in terms of color family first, then value, and finally adjusting the chroma or saturation of the color.


Tips concerning art material containers

Today’s tip. Anytime you buy a new bottle or jar of something for your studio, carefully remove the lid while everything is clean and put a piece of saran wrap over the opening and then screw your lid back on. You will need to replace the Saran wrap each time but you will find that you do not have to worry about having your lids getting dried up gunk in them and sticking shut. Especially on those items that you don’t use that often.



Golden Ratio

We all use the rule of thirds in our compositions. Sometimes you may want to change it up a little. On my studio work….Once I have a fairly good idea of what I want to paint….I get out my trusty Golden Ratio Calipers or Fibonacci Gauge to help me decide how to divide my space/areas of interest and placement…..As you probably know the ratio is 1 to .618. You can divide then subdivide the space which I did on the first one to lay in the road in the front.
Outside, I divide my canvas in half, then in half for quarters..then in half for eighths. I will use 5/8 as starting point. This just gives me a general idea of where I might place objects in the painting. Or just use the rule of thirds…Or sometimes you just eyeball it as long as it looks “right”. No rules, just guidelines..
Intersections of the lines for thirds or golden ratios gives you a general idea of your sweet spots on your canvas.
You can get the calipers on Etsy from ilexopaca. I don’t know how to do a link on here.|
PS..I am back to painting again! 


Brush Cleaning and Care

Here are the things I use to try and keep my brushes in good shape. I typically clean most of the oil paint off of the brush in Gamsol. I then rinse the brush in a second container of Gamsol to get out the rest. This helps keep my brush less contaminated with other colors while I paint.

At the end of the painting session. I go through the Gamsol process first. Then I clean my brushes in my art sink with Dawn soap under running water. Massaging out any residue from the ferrule and heel, up through the belly to the toe of the brush. I do this several times rinsing the brush as I go. I then shape the brush and let it dry.

Every week or so…after cleaning my brushes, I will dip in Trekell Brush Restorer, massaging in the liquid, shaping the brush and letting it dry.

Do you have brushes with dried out paint in them? Then Brush Flush is for you. It can clean about any brush you have no matter the condition of the brush. I find it harsh, so I only use it if I have let paint accidentally dry on my brush and not for any daily use.